The sudden shutdown of Sydney’s train network that stranded hundreds of thousands of commuters on Monday morning has been labelled “terrorist-like” by the NSW government.
No passenger trains were operating across Sydney, Newcastle, Central Coast, Blue Mountains and the Illawarra on Monday after state transport authorities sensationally suspended services, leaving commuters in limbo at peak hour.
Major roads were jammed across Sydney for the morning commute and school run. Traffic was backed up 22 kilometres on the M2 motorway, while there was gridlock on Victoria Road, the M5 and Hume Highway.
The action is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between the government and the union over safety guarantees, hygiene and privatisation concerns.
Transport Minister David Elliott said the government wasn’t to blame. He said the union failed to turn up to an industrial conciliation meeting on Sunday night.
“The scene today is nothing short of industrial bastardry. This is nothing but a part of the Labor Party’s campaign to bully the electorate into supporting their election and I don’t think the people of NSW are going to buy it,” he said.
“It’s horrifying to think that on the very day we’re welcoming overseas visitors for the first time, the very day universities go back, we have this sort of snap strike, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this city for decades. I’m calling on the union to come back to the table with clean hands.”
Transport for NSW said the matter was before the industrial umpire on the weekend. It said it decided to cancel trains about midnight on Sunday, after union action made it impossible to safely operate services.
RTBU NSW Secretary Alex Claassens insisted rail workers were not on strike and had turned up to work, as scheduled, early on Monday.
“We are not on strike. All the people behind me, all the people in meal rooms across the network are ready to work at a minute’s notice,” he said.
“We’re all there. We’re ready to do the work, as we agreed in the commission late on Saturday night.”
The union had walked off the job only twice during the current round of industrial action, with one eight-hour and one four-hour work stoppage since September, Mr Claassens said.
“It’s not about money. It’s always been about safety issues, about protections against privatisation,” he said at Sydney’s Central Station.
“It’s also been about protections for the commuters, to make sure we maintain a safe and clean network.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the rail union for leaving commuters stranded, saying it was disrespectful to fellow Sydneysiders trying to get children to school.
“This is just not how you behave and this is not how you treat your fellow citizens,” Mr Morrison told 2GB.
“This is not how this should be done and I feel for those Sydneysiders today who are affected by this strike.
“The union movement has decided to really pull the rug out from under that on our first day back.”
Commuters have been urged to use alternative modes of transport, and allow extra time for trips.
The government and the union are due back at the Fair Work Commission on Monday to try to resolve the dispute.